Pittsburgh's Newest Pop-Up
Here, Clowder & Pack's creator Connor Site-Bowen talks about his latest project:
QB: Could you describe the current atmosphere at Cats & Dogs? What attracted you about it and how do you hope to alter it for the pop-up bookstore?
CSB: Cats and Dogs is a wonderful local coffee shop. Blonde wood furniture, vaulting pressed-relief ceilings, clean white walls, and large south-facing windows provide an atmosphere of space and lightness. The art is always local, and changes often. The coffee is delicious and the owners, Mr. Cat and Mr. Dog, are friendly, cheerful, and passionate about making Pittsburgh an even better place to live.
There is a large (15ft x 15ft) back room, usually available for meetings and other reserved events, which Clowder and Pack will inhabit. It will be a store-within-the-store, accessible via the cafe. Readings and the like will take place both in the back room and the general space.
QB: Talk about your work with Assemble and how it's inspired you to organize a pop-up bookstore.
CSB: I have worked with Assemble for a year or so now. I am the Event Manager there, making sure that the space is set up for groups to come in and that events go smoothly. Assemble is wonderful because it is a real physical space - a long, cavernous, former storefront in the heart of the city. As such, it can be a site for all kinds of density of thought and action. It serves as a hub for everything from kid-targeted learning parties to indie rock shows, many of which feature bands from local art collective Monalloh Foundry.
I am inspired by the work that the space has allowed people to create together, and I wanted to do something that would both make the space some money (we always have rent and utilities to pay, and we provide most of our events free of charge) and also reflect the kind of innovative, interesting events and presenters Assemble attracts.
Having seen Fleeting Pages, a month long pop-up bookstore, succeed, I though that I might do the same thing but narrow it down to a four day semi-festival and give all the proceeds to Assemble.
QB: What other pop-ups have...popped up...in Pittsburgh?
CSB: Fleeting Pages was the biggest example. It was organized by Jodi Morrison, an artist who left Pittsburgh for a decade or so and returned in 2009, moving into the Bank Building in Braddock (which was actually a Masonic Temple before it was a bank). Fleeting Pages took over the space of a dying Borders Bookstore, which had been an anchor tenant at the East Side development in Shadyside/East Liberty. It existed for a long, awesome month and then closed.
Ms. Morrison designed it deliberately as a one-time event.
The East Side development was always troubled with conflicting interpretations, and the Borders was part of that trouble. Many locals saw it as a return to the kind of massive rip-out-and-replace development that ripped East Liberty apart fifty years ago when Penn Circle was built. Others saw it as another example of creeping gentrification and globalization. Along with the Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Walgreens, the Borders was a clear replacement of the local with the faceless, multi-national. Fleeting Pages was, in its own way, a direct counter to that. It was incredibly local and incredibly specific and targeted.
Since then, the City of Pittsburgh has explicitly encouraged landlords to allow empty spaces to be taken over temporarily for pop-up events and spaces. Many spaces downtown have become temporary art spaces or shows.
The city is littered with unused storefronts and spaces. The recession (both the recent one and the longer loss-of-industry in the city) has marched on, and many local businesses have simply dried up. Pittsburgh is organized as a series of small town-like neighborhoods, each with its own Main Street. As such, there are thousands of street level storefront spaces in town. Many of them are not occupied currently, and could potentially become pop-up spaces.
The Handmade Arcade and I Made It Market are two local craft venues that started as, essentially, roving fairs, with a different, temporary location each time. Handmade Arcade has since ballooned into a full-on convention show at the Convention Center.
Bird Brain Labs is an electronics retailer that moves around the city, selling Arduino kits, LEDs, servos, and other equipment and parts at fairs, hackspaces, and maker-sites.
QB: How will Clowder & Pack enhance P'burgh's literary arts scene?
CSB: We already have a strong scene here, centered around Copacetic Comics, an independent comics and indie novels store in Polish Hill, Awesome Books, a used book store which has locations on Penn Avenue and in Downtown, and Caliban, the rare-and-limited fine bookseller on Craig St. Copacetic and Awesome Books often have author readings, poetry nights, and other events.
Cyberpunk Apocalypse, a local writers collective which recently moved to the North Side, also hosts literary events and aggressively seeks out other venues for their work.
My hope for Clowder & Pack is that it will bring a lot of different literary scenes together, celebrate the work that all local authors are doing, and through its unique set-up as a pop-up retailer and semi-festival, illuminate what this city already has. What does the city have, you might ask? Amazing, talented, world-class authors and the scene to back them up.
QB: A clowder of cats, a pack of dogs, right? Why'd you choose this name for the bookshop, besides the fact that it plays on the cafe's name?
CSB: It is at Cats and Dogs. It benefits Assemble. The wordplay of antiquated, collective nouns came naturally. From that Victorian sounding name came the theme - a small local print shop, around the 1890s. My plan for the walls is to showcase historic pictures of Pittsburgh with dirigibles and other airships carefully added in.